How to make the most of a small space

Making the most of small spaces can be a challenging task, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. To start, ask yourself a few questions.

  • What is the purpose of the room?
  • What do I need to put inside?
  • How do I make the most use of the space?

Once you’ve decided on the purpose of the room, everything else is easy.

Do small spaces require small things? Not necessarily. I’ve learned a few things about making the most of small spaces since moving to Germany. The house we’re renting has a small laundry room. This would be okay if it were used for that purpose alone. Unfortunately there is no storage room, pantry or garage. So this little laundry room serves more than one function. What’s the key to making a tiny room work as a multi-purpose room? The answer is organization.

There are containers for everything. You can put containers inside containers, and containers inside drawers. It seems like a lot of work and money right? It doesn’t have to be. Don’t worry, organizing can be fun and inexpensive.

This tiny room is approximately 6 ft. X 11 ft. It actually gets narrower towards one end of the room. It serves as a laundry room, pantry, storage and recycling area. Here are a few tips to organizing things in a small space.

When you have to put big things in a room, choose items that can be stacked such as a washer, dryer, and drawers. It’s good to vary the sizes of the items in a room. A bunch of only small items can make it look cluttered.

There’s no need for expensive shelves or large cabinets. A set of plastic drawers, a plastic shelf, a small cabinet, and a few crates and boxes will do the job.

Take a look at the white plastic drawers (pic below) beside the washer and dryer. It’s two sets of three drawers. One placed on top of the other. You can find this in any small grocery or department store. The price is reasonable. It’s easy to clean and carry. It’s easy to view the contents inside, and it lasts a long time.

Different everyday items can be stored in these drawers as you can see below. Keep anything that you want to smell fragrant in a drawer with your favorite dryer sheet. It will give that item (like tissue) a mild pleasing scent when you use it.

Store small items that can make a lot of mess in separate containers. The cans below cost €1 (on sale) and are perfect for storing plasticware like forks, knives, and spoons.

You can store snack bags or sandwich bags in tupperware. Pick one that you don’t use anymore or plan on throwing away. Keep it simple or decorate it. This is a good way to recycle and organize.

If you like to cook, it’s a good idea to have a spice rack. Mine is stored at the corner by the kitchen door. The metal rack with wheels makes it easy to maneuver back and forth, to and from the kitchen. It also saves time. You will have all the spices you need all at once and in one place rather than looking for them everywhere and carrying a few spices at a time.

These brand name spices (pic below) cost anywhere from $2-$5. There’s a better way to save money and a more efficient way to store your spices.

Buy spices in plastic bags like the ones you see below, instead of the spices in glass or plastic bottles. You don’t have to buy brand name spices. Generic ones are just as good. It’s less expensive and you get more for your money. After transferring them into containers of your choice, clip them and they’re ready for storage.

You have to be a little creative if you live in a country where recycling is a must. Storing your spices in little jars like the ones below will help a lot. These jars are sold for €1 each. Buy a few at a time to avoid an expensive bill. Transfer the spices into these jars so you can take the bags or bottles they came in to the recycling center, all at one time.

Label the jars on top or on the side (depending on your spice rack) so you can easily pick what you need when cooking.

Having one type of container makes your spice rack look more uniformed and organized. You can put the spices you use most on the top rack and alphabetize the rest of the spices on the bottom. This makes it much easier to find what you need.

These clear jars make it easy to see the spices without looking at the label. It also makes the spice rack look more interesting because of the different colors.

How do you keep track of the expiration dates once the spices are transferred? It’s easy.

  • Type it in your phone under “Notes” and title it “Expiration Dates.”
  • Do it the old fashioned way by writing it on a piece of paper and insert it in a page protector. Tape, hang or clip it to one of the shelves.
  • Write it on a whiteboard and hang it in the room.

So what do you do with the extra spices in the bags? Put them in a clear container and store them. For spices that come in bulk or economical sizes, you can use bigger containers that open on one end for easy pouring.

There is an advantage to having a small storage space. You will not have anything expire before you can use it. The small white cabinet below stores perishable goods.

Remember the storage method: First In, First Out (FIFO). This is a method of inventory used by stores to rotate merchandise. They want to sell the goods they purchased first before their latest purchase. In grocery stores, they place the ones expiring sooner in the very front of shelves. Merchandise with later expiration dates are located in the very back of shelves.

You can rotate perishable goods two ways:

  • Store food that will expire later on the very back of shelves. Store the ones expiring sooner in the front. This will allow you to pull and use the ones that will expire first. Move the ones in the back to the front as you buy new ones.
  • Store food that will expire sooner on the left side and those that will expire later on the right. Always pull from the left side first. Rotate the ones on the right to the left side as you buy new ones.

The black plastic shelving below is what you would normally store in the garage. Use this in a small room instead of a closed-door cabinet. This will make the space feel more open.

No need for pricey containers. The trays, pans, boxes and crates you see on the shelves below are all from a second-hand store or came free with purchase. Pick different sizes, color, texture and materials to make your shelves more interesting and colorful.

Containers within containers. Store pasta, rice, and baking ingredients in easy-to-see containers. Then place them on pans or trays to keep them together. Pick containers of different sizes so you can arrange them by height to make it easier to see the labels.

Use the same concept for liquids. Transfer them in glass bottles so you can take the original containers to the recycling center in one trip. These clear containers are also more appealing to look at. Again, no need for fancy bottles. These small bottles cost €1 at the store. You can also find them at flea markets.

Make use of any space available. If there’s a space in any of your items, use it. The bright blue lunch bag and red cooler you see on the very top shelf (pic below) serves a purpose. The first aid kit is stored in the blue lunch bag and all medicines are in the red cooler. Store items like these in a place out of children’s reach.

I don’t recommend blocking any door for safety purposes. This door (pic above) is never used and stays locked all year. In case of emergency, everything in front of it is easy to move. This space is temporarily used for storage and recycling.

The black grocery stroller is great for trips to the store. It saves from buying and using plastic bags. It makes it more convenient to transport goods from the car to the house. It also serves as storage for large pots and pans.

The grey plastic crate with bright green trim (pic below) is used for recycled products (glass bottles, cardboard, plastic). It makes everything look more organized instead of having several bags all over the room.

Keeping things in containers. It frees up space and makes the room look bigger, cleaner, and neater.

Here’s the bottom line to making the most of a small space:

  • Use easy-to-see or clear containers.
  • Use shelving with wheels for easy movement and maneuverability.
  • Uniformity and labels give a more organized look (such as containers for spices and liquids).
  • Pick different types and unique containers (ex. trays, crates etc.) to give your space more character.
  • Pick a few colorful containers to brighten up the room.
  • Use everyday items as extra storage space (ex. grocery cart for pots and lunch bags or coolers for important items).
  • There’s no need to buy expensive storage shelves or containers. Check second hand stores or thrift shops first.
  • Recycle or upcycle some of the things you have at home.

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